Andaman and Nicobar Islands – which are a terrestrial chain consisting of 524 islands sovereign to India, have turned into a nightmare for China. The islands have always been India’s biggest asset in the Indian Ocean, while also serving as the country’s eyes when it comes to keeping a check on Chinese activities across the Strait of Malacca and thereafter, across the Indo-Pacific. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, incidentally, were gifted to India by Japan in 1943, upon the insistence of visionary Indian freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had, during World War II itself, realised the extraordinary significance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In a message to China, Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat said on Friday the Andaman and Nicobar Command has lived up to its mandate and continues to remain poised and prepared to take on a varied spectrum of threats.
In a statement on Friday, the chief of defence staff said the geographic location of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands– guarding our eastern frontiers while straddling some of the world’s most important sea lines of communications (SLOCs) – has made them one of the most important strategic areas for the nation. The CDS added that today, the Command stands proud as a potent force to reckon with in a region that is under intense scrutiny on the world map.
A Message to China
The Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) is the first integrated theatre command in India with headquarters at Port Blair. The second one is the Strategic Forces Command, which looks after India’s nuclear assets. In fact, Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat made no secret of the fact that the Andaman and Nicobar Command serves as a leading light of how theaterisation of the Indian military can be achieved.
Rawat has been working on the theaterisation model under which at least six new integrated commands are being envisaged. According to the Economic Times, each of the theatre commands will have units of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and all of them will work as a single entity looking after security challenges in a specified geographical territory under an operational commander. This would change the existing system of all three services having different commands across the country.
India Sending China the Chills from Andaman and Nicobar Islands
India possesses the ability to block all supplies to China which pass through the Strait of Malacca – a strategic chokepoint connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans just south of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Almost all essential Chinese supplies, including China-bound oil, must cross the Strait of Malacca. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands overlook this chokepoint and India has always considered the many islands in the chain as immovable aircraft carriers which will play an immense role during conflicts with China.
Last year, the Modi government had expedited the plans for basing additional military forces, including facilities for additional warships, aircraft, missile batteries, and infantry soldiers at the strategically-located Andaman Islands. As reported by TFI in 2019, the Modi government had provided Rs 5,650 crore to develop military infrastructure in the region after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had visited the Andamans.
Defence sources said that the long-pending plans for “force accretion” and “military infrastructure development” at the Islands have “gained a sense of urgency” with China’s aggressive and expansionist moves both along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control as well as the in the Indian Ocean region.
India will be able to base additional warships, aircraft, missile batteries and infantry soldiers in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands under the overall 10-year infrastructure development “roll-on” plan, which also includes an air enclave with a 10,000-ft runway at Kamorta island.
Interestingly, as reported by TFI in April, India and Japan are partnering to weaponise these islands. For the first time, India has allowed Japan to make a humongous investment in the islands, via an official development assistance (ODA) project, paving the way for Japan to put in over ¥4.02 billion, or Rs 265 crores in investments to the island chain. The project undertaken by Japan would improve the power supply in the islands, while also stressing the strategic geopolitical location of the islands for an open Indo-Pacific.
Essentially, at a time when India is refusing to budge on the Indo-Tibetan border, particularly in Eastern Ladakh, China too is playing hardball. The 13th Corp Commander-level meeting between the two countries failed to achieve any results. But China is being told by India that its action in Eastern Ladakh will only motivate New Delhi to achieve complete militarisation of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Rest assured; China does not need to be reminded of the consequences of the same.